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Cancer Patients May Benefit from Acupuncture to Relieve Fatigue, Anxiety

cancer treatment, breast cancer, acupuncture, complementary and alternative medi

Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common side effects of both the disease and its treatments. The sometimes disabling lack of energy can be caused by many factors, so in cases where the underlying cause cannot be eliminated, acupuncture may provide patients some relief.

According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), more than one-third of all adults (about 38%) had used some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). A special analysis of the data shows that CAM use is more prevalent in patients with cancer. About 40% of cancer survivors use a complementary health practice as they want to do everything they can to combat the disease, manage its symptoms and cope with the side effects of treatment. The most popular practices among cancer survivors were herbal and other natural products such as dietary supplements (20%), deep breathing (14%), and meditation (9%).

Acupuncture, though an ancient Traditional Chinese medicine, is today often used in cancer care for pain reduction and to improve nausea for those receiving chemotherapy. The technique is believed to boost the activity of the body’s natural painkillers and increase blood flow.

The latest study, conducted on patients with breast cancer, found an improvement in feelings of fatigue and anxiety as well. Alex Molassiotis RN PhD of the University of Manchester in England recruited 302 volunteers diagnosed with breast cancer. Seventy-five of the patients received the standard care, while the remainder received acupuncture in addition to their regular medical treatments. Treatment was delivered by acupuncturists once a week for six weeks.

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At the end of the study, the patients who received acupuncture showed improvements in the “General Fatigue” score on the Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory (MFI). They also reported less pain, less anxiety and depression, and an improved quality of life.

"I am quite excited with these results. They provide some good evidence of an effect of acupuncture for the management of a very debilitating and burdensome symptom for patients," said Dr. Molassiotis. "Acupuncture is a complementary therapy that not only can have direct effects on the symptom experience of patients, but also ... provide the opportunity [for] patients to be more involved with their symptom management and empower them more.

Complications from acupuncture are very rare, as long as the acupuncturist uses sterile needles and proper procedures. Because chemotherapy and radiation therapy weaken the body’s immune system, cancer patients who are undergoing these therapies should be sure that the acupuncturist follows strict clean-needle procedures and he or she should use new disposable (single-use) needles for each patient.

Journal Reference:
A. Molassiotis et al. Acupuncture for Cancer-Related Fatigue in Patients With Breast Cancer: A Pragmatic Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Published online before print October 29, 2012, doi:10.1200/JCO.2012.41.6222

Additional Resources:
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (National Institutes of Health)

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